Mid-nineteenth century anthropologists and ethnographers began to systematically use photography as a method to show evidence of the disparate connection between indigenous inhabitants and the new settlers.
The Curtis Syndrome
In 1986 Edward Curtis , an American ethnologist , set out to document the indigenous North American Indians. Spanning 30 years the 20 volumes of 40,000 photographs of idealised images provide a record of what was a rapidly vanishing people. Anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski held the view that when an ethnographic subject is identified it is at the same time as that way of life coming to an end.
Browse the catalogue Tribal Portraits:Vintage and Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent , Bernard J Shapero Rare Books.
Core resources TribalPortraits.pdf
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Described as ‘a celebration of African culture ‘ the vast majority are of semi-naked or naked subjects whom are traditionally dressed and /or photographed performing customary rituals. The images adhere to Western perception of ‘the other’ and whilst they are undoubtable fascinating to look at I felt rather uneasy viewing them, which brought to mind an earlier project and exercise ‘the gaze’ (notes here ) .
However two images stood out to me :
1.This conceptually distinct and visually striking studio photograph by Malik Sidibé here particularly struck me. The playful image with its connotations of starving children with swollen bellies and tribal ceremonies parodies the usual depiction of indigenous African people.
2.This portrait agains a black background by Antonine Schneck here
I like his photography very much , portraiture is favourite genre of mine I think these are fabulous. See here.
Nothing changes and images of unsophisticated indigenous people remain fascinating to Western eyes. Yet they continue to romanticise and perpetuate the perception of these people as ‘noble savages’ .
See here and here
Nudity becomes acceptable when presented as ‘art’ or study of an indigenous society. See here.
References / Bibliography